I was tagged a couple of days ago by @moodlegirl on Twitter to complete the “Seven Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me” meme. The list just kind of evolved. I kept adding ideas to geistesblitz and then got to work. There were other things that I deleted and yet more that could have been included. I’ve seen most of my twitter friends complete this over the last few weeks so I’m not tagging anyone else. Here goes.
1. I wanted to be a spaceman
When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut. I followed the Apollo missions obsessively, collecting anything I could from magazines, newspapers and the free gifts in cereal or tea packets. If only I had them now! I remember my dad calling me downstairs to watch Neil Armstrong step onto the moon’s surface on a blurry black and white TV. This stellar ambition was later replaced with a desire to be a marine biologist/illustrator. I took up scuba diving and completed the training, but it sort of petered out when I discovered girls, pubs and beer. I was fifteen.
2. I was shot in the head when I was ten
I had a best friend at school called John. We used to “borrow” his older bother’s air rifle and go shooting rats by the river or canal. One day John’s brother got a new toy- a wooden bow and metal tipped arrows, so we spent the afternoon “target” shooting. This mainly involved taking turns to stand, legs akimbo, while the other shot an arrow through the leggy arch and made it stick into the ground. We both got pretty good at it and neither of us flinched as the whirling, spinning shafts whizzed near or between our legs. Our nerves of steel had been tempered by years of playing “chicken” another leg spreading game played face to face and involving big, sharp knives. Eventually we got bored and John thought of a question that we just had to find the answer to. “I wonder which will go furthest? The bow and arrow or the airgun?”
I can’t remember how, but I ended up with the bow and John with the gun. He primed and loaded it as I pulled back the string and let fly. The arrow soared through the air, over his garden fence, over the allotment of cabbages and cauliflowers, over the hedge and half way across the school rugby field. We were very impressed. Following John’s instruction I walked to where the arrow had landed and turned to…
BANG! Not the noise of the gun, but the noise of the pellet hitting my forehead, about 3cm above my right eye. To this day I don’t know what he was aiming at. Nor do I know how we were to find and measure where the pellet had landed if my head hadn’t stopped it. I do know that the next few minutes were very, very bloody and I was cleaned up and calmed down by John’s mum. She bribed me with a “99” not to tell my mum what had happened. I was cheap even back then and I told my mum I’d banged my head on a nail. I kept the truth a secret until my mid-thirties when John was safely living in Spain. I still got the standard motherly refrain. “Did what! He could have taken your eye out!” Let it go mum, let it go.
3. I went to a single sex “public” school
At thirteen my parents decided I should attend an all boys public school and get a “better” education. The school was given its charter by Queen Elizabeth I, was nearly 500 years old and had a long tradition of academic excellence- if you could pay the fees. Luckily for me there was a Socialist Labour government in power at the time and they decreed that these schools could only continue to exist if they guaranteed free places to the more able children in the state sector. I’d been assessed as one of these students.
Greatly upset at the thought of losing all my school friends I determined not to go. I came up with a plan so cunning that it was sure to put a stop to it. I would commit a crime to ensure that I was awarded a criminal record. Surely no posh school would want a notorious criminal in their snobby midst? My cleverly devised plan went awry when I discovered that my crime was not as heinous as I thought. Reaching in through an open classroom window at the weekend and taking your own clay thumb-pot wasn’t up there with armed robbery or terrorism. Someone grassed me up and in the end I only got a stern telling off from the Chief Constable. I was to have another, potentially more serious, encounter with the long arm of the law while at university.
4. I studied art for six years
I went art school for 3 years and then spent the next 3 years at university getting a fine arts degree (the same degree that enabled me to undertake the postgraduate teacher training course at Waikato). I studied art history, video production, photography and film. My majors were in painting and printmaking (etching). By The time I’d finished I’d had enough of the art world’s b.s. and haven’t put pencil to paper or paint to canvas seriously for more than 20 years.
5. I was arrested for attempting to break into a nunnery
It’s not as bad as at sounds. Really. During a heavy day/night out with a friend (Colin, if you’re out there, I’m looking at you) we spent all our food money for the week on beer. After a particularly scary encounter with a sawn-off shotgun in a local pub, we decided to call it a night and stagger home. We got lost on the way and, spying a tall, forbidding wall, we decided to climb it to get our bearings. Colin climbed on my shoulders and managed to scramble to the top, only to cry “Can’t see anything from up here”.
It was then the security van drove past. They must have notified the police because minutes later we were arrested by one of Northumberland’s finest. “You were seen climbing over the nunnery wall lad,” and we were bundled into the back of his police car. After a night in the cells, several cups of sugary tea and a few visits to a “stainless” steel toilet that was infinitely scarier than the shotgun, we eventually convinced the cops that we were just drunken, stupid art students and not nefarious nun botherers. We dined and drank out on the story for weeks.
6. I was a skinhead (boots, braces and all)
I entered art school with long, hippy hair and left as a skinhead. I was very politically active and, unlike most racist, fascist skinheads, I joined the Anti Nazi League, The Socialist Workers Party and supported the Rock Against Racism movement that evolved as a response to Eric Clapton’s anti-immigration views and David Bowie’s professed admiration for Adolf Hitler. A small group of “Red Skins”, we were sure that we had the proletarian answer to Thatcher’s downtrodden Britain of the nineteen-eighties. We didn’t.
7. I didn’t learn to drive until I was 41 years old
I’d never needed to. There were buses at the end of every street, running every fifteen minutes, 5am to 11pm, seven days a week. Five minutes walk away was a railway station that gave access to anywhere in the country (and later Europe). When I first started teaching I got a taxi to school and home again every day. It was costing me over $300 a month – even with bumming a ride with any colleague going my way. Reluctantly I decided the time had come and spent most of the summer holidays reading the road code and taking driving lessons. I passed my test the day after the beginning of Term 1, 2001. The thing is, I’ve come to really like driving (by myself). I like being cocooned in a little world of my own where I’m in control and all the decisions are mine. Plus I like to play my music LOUD! I still only have a restricted license.